The Celts were an active, warlike folk, so when they found themselves at peace, they invented warlike sports to keep themselves fit. Although they'd beaten their Celtic swords into ploughshares, Irish farmers continued to play these exciting sports. In the late nineteenth century, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) revived them. GAA matches still gather roaring crowds from across the island.
The Irish people kept their language and traditions alive during several centuries of British dominance. Because of their efforts, there was an identifiable “Irish culture” for Irish patriots to revive in the nineteenth century as a unifying force for their country. Today, the continuing rebirth of Irish traditional culture makes Ireland a fascinating place to visit.
One of the most unique Irish sports is hurling, an ancient game played by two fifteen-member teams armed with curved wooden sticks called “hurlies.” They use the sticks to smack around a hard leather ball (
The woman's version of hurling is called
Gaelic Football and Other Sports
Hurling is an ancient sport, and forms of it have evolved into a number of popular modern sports. The Scottish form of hurling is called shinty. Since shinty involves hitting a ball around with a stick, it is thought to have inspired that other Scottish sport, golf. Hurling and shinty enthusiasts emigrated to Canada, where they adapted their favorite sport to the ice and called it hockey. Unlike the Celts or the Irish, however, the Canadians had the sense to wear pads.
The hero Cuchulain wasn't just Ireland's greatest warrior; he was also the best hurler. In one version of the story of how he got his name (see Chapter 3 for another version), he accidentally killed Culain's hound when he got too enthusiastic in a hurling match. He offered to serve in the dog's place, and thereafter he was known as Cu Culain — “Culain's hound.”
A marginally safer form of hurling evolved into Gaelic Football, the GAA's other major sport. It's kind of like soccer, except the players use their hands, and it's kind of like American football, except the players don't wear pads. Games are fast and furious.